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In support of classroom observations

By February 21, 2014June 13th, 20164 Comments

There’s been chatter in the educational blogosphere lately about the effectiveness of classroom walkthroughs. Some question the impact that instructional leaders have on student achievement. Some have even questioned whether principals should visit classrooms at all.

However, research shows a clear link between the coaching of teachers and student achievement. There is also a clear indication that walkthroughs are valuable if teachers see them as part of professional development. So what’s the best model for walkthroughs?

McREL’s research on school-level leadership found 21 principal responsibilities, activities, and behaviors that are most strongly connected to staff and student success—15 of which can be addressed by conducting classroom walkthroughs. An informal classroom walkthrough of 3‒5 minutes allows school-level leaders to gather information about teaching styles, instructional strategies, technology use, and other valuable information that can help drive professional development. It also allows leaders to increase their visibility among students and staff and to gauge the temperature of the school climate. Walkthroughs conducted with a purpose and linked to instructional practice do create value for teachers, leaders, and students.

Bringing coaches into the picture

We’ve seen an interesting shift in the typical users of McREL’s Power Walkthrough software and training. When it was developed in 2007, our clients were almost solely principals and assistant principals. But lately, we’ve seen the software being used more and more by teacher leaders, mentors, and instructional coaches. Perhaps this is reflective of principals realizing that allowing staff to observe and learn from one another is an effective way of providing ongoing professional development.

In response to this shift, this summer we’ll launch Power Walkthrough Coach, designed  to help principals, teacher leaders, and instructional coaches give teachers the valuable feedback and input they need to improve their practice.

If done in the context of research-based leadership practices and instructional development, classroom walkthroughs are a valuable way for principals and school leaders to see instruction happening in their schools, provide personalized professional development and feedback to teachers, and to involve staff in their own professional learning.


2011_Hubbell_WEBElizabeth Ross Hubbell is a consultant in McREL’s Center for Educator Effectiveness, and co-author of Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.), Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.), and The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching.



2011_Kerr_WEBAndrew Kerr is a consultant for McREL’s Center for Educator Effectiveness, working with schools, districts, and state and national education agencies on curriculum and instruction, technology planning, staff development, and distance learning programs.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Dr. Karla Gable says:

    I am involved in K/12 accreditation for digital learning institutions. i am looking for guidance for classroom walkthroughs for online courses. Please share any information you might have.

  • Alice Owen says:

    I am very interested in how principals impact teacher implementation of technology in the classroom. I think they are the key! Your new research and training on the coaching aspect sounds very promising. I would be very interested to find out more.

  • Amelia says:

    I found your article very interesting. My school leaders already implement informal classroom walkthroughs twice daily for all teachers. However, many teachers in my school express how the walkthroughs do not create any type of value, but rather increases anxiety. I believe the reason for this is because my school leaders rarely provide feedback after the walkthrough. This leaves teachers wondering how they are performing and often analyzing administrators’ body language. I am hoping classroom walkthrough feedback will increase this school year. This may be a topic I can bring up at our next school improvement committee. Thank you.

  • Lisa Maxfield says:

    It is extremely important for teachers to understand what school leaders are looking for when observing classrooms and understand how the data is being used. The wealth of information that is being gathered should be shared with teachers on a consistent basis. This could be e-mailing the walkthrough immediately after leaving the classroom or sharing the school, department, and/or grade level data at every monthly staff meeting. After reviewing the data, conversations should occur and SMART goals and action plans should be created to help improve teacher practice. The observations should provide excitement for teachers knowing that they will receive formative feedback and opportunities for growth.

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